How NOT to be an LGBTQ Ally

A pride flag is accompanied by the words, how not to be an LGBTQ ally.

I’ve held my LGBTQ membership for about 7 years now (for the allies reading—it’s a joke!) and encountered my fair share of very poor attempts of straight people trying anything to indicate to me that they don’t hate me for being gay. QUICK TIP: When I mention my girlfriend, I do not need you to wave a Pride flag in my face. I would actually appreciate you carrying on a conversation like you would for anyone else. Straight people generally don’t know how to act when they realize someone is queer, and it’s really embarrassing for them. Like the amount of secondhand embarrassment I get from that makes me sweat.

From unwelcomed comments on my social media posts, parading first Pride attendance as “courageous” for a straight person, and yelling across a park to highlight the bravery of two girls holding hands, it’s occurred to me that straight and cis people need a guide on how to be an ally. Your heart is there, but you need help with the rest. This is normal if you don’t (think) you know very many gay or trans people, so don’t feel too bad. (But do feel bad enough to read through the end. If you really want to be a good ally—finish reading.)

I promise this is an actual guide for you, ally reader. There is 100% a wrong way to be an ally. This post might make you uncomfortable, and if you read to the end—thanks! Way to go! You are a decent ally! But know that I will be making jokes at your expense throughout this post because my readers are LGBTQ and I intend to cater to my audience and make them laugh. Okay, that’s it. Without further ado, here’s what NOT to do:

DON’T take a Valentine’s Day post featuring gays and turn it into an opportunity to tell them that you aren’t homophobic.

Okay, yes, you caught me. This exact interaction sparked the foundation of this blog post in the first place. Allow me to walk you through it.

The poor “ally” action

I’m scrolling through Facebook and see half a dozen posts of #ValentinesChallenge in which a person answers a series of questions about themselves and their partner, like “who hogs the remote?” I decided to partake in this cringe-fest, calling my girlfriend as a consult to ensure all our answers aligned (they did), and posted a sweet picture of us.

A facebook text post reads as follows. Valentine's Day is coming! Here's our story: How'd you guys meet? Tumblr. First date? In-person was at Chaquitos UK restaurant. How long have you all been together? 6 years. Married? not yet. Age difference? About 1.5 years. Who was interested first? Me. How is taller? Jas. Who said I love you first? We both 100% said I love you before we admitted we had feelings for each other so. Most impatient? Jas. Most sensitive? Toss-up. Loudest? Mostly Jas??? Most stubborn? Jas 100 percent. Falls asleep first? Me, even when I'm 5 hours behind her it's still me. Cooks better? Okay it used to be me but now it's probably a tie. She's been doing a lot more cooking in 2020 that I have yet to taste. Better morning person? Me. Most competitive? Jas Funniest? She thinks she's funniest but it's a tie, and she's british so actually maybe I'm funnier.

Hours later, I had the misfortune of reading the following comment:

Who cares about who you love? So long as you are happy, that is all that matters.  

What the Gay wants to say

Okay, Martin, you’re not wrong—but I didn’t ask. I just answered some relationship questions because the trend looked fun. I didn’t talk about being gay. Didn’t allude to the Gay Struggle in any way. Nothing about my post asked for an affirmation or call for allies to take a stance on Gay. I just posted about Valentine’s Day. (Instead of that reply, I settled for saying “thanks I’m aware.”)

The explanation

The comment is annoying because nobody would ever say this to a straight couple. It highlights the ways my relationship is “abnormal” or different when I never put this into the discussion. In fact, I was 100% sure participating in #ValentinesChallenge was almost straight culture appropriation, and yet, I still got a cute little callout for being different.

Now, Martin gets to feel great about not being a homophobe, but I never asked, nor did I care. Whether he realizes it or not, he commented to make himself good. It wasn’t about me or the LGBTQ community.

The alternative

Here is an appropriate list of comments others left on my Facebook post. Choose any of these options that don’t center me being gay when I didn’t ask for it:

  • Love y’all! Happy Valentine’s day! ❤
  • Disgustingly cute!! Love it!!
  • Cute af
  • 2 super gorgeous people inside and out
  • i love this photo of you both
  • my fave OTP

DON’T see lesbians holding hands in public and point it out by shouting in effort to affirm you are an ally.

Yes, this really happened.

The poor “ally” action

My girlfriend and I were on a date in Grand Rapids, Michigan—the place I found myself and spent four years getting my undergrad—and we held hands walking to one of the art museums there. A boy around our age—early twenties at the time—snapped away from a conversation with two other people and yelled from a distance, “Hey! You are so brave! Just two girls holding hands—I love it! Love IS LOVE!!!!!!”

A young blonde woman stands in front of a river and iconic blue walking bridge.
A picture of my girlfriend on our day in Grand Rapids. 2017.

What the Gay wants to say

I’m just trying to be on a date. I’m holding my girlfriend’s hand and walking to a museum—one of the first times we held hands in public without any other friends or family along with us. Please don’t highlight this. We both have anxiety, and now the entire Rosa Parks Circle is staring at us. And now one of us has to say something back. I wave, mutter “haha, thanks!” and we race into the museum as quickly as doesn’t look suspicious. Please please please nobody follows us. I don’t know any self-defense techniques.

The explanation

Like with the social media post, the mere existence of me with my girlfriend is not an invitation to affirm to us that you approve of our existence. No such comment would be made if we were a straight couple. And shouting into the open street to vocalize it—even worse. It turned heads across the park, which could’ve put us in serious danger had any hate-ridden homophobes overheard.

The alternative

If you’re excited about some gays in public, just smile. Maybe wave. That’s all it takes.

DON’T Make a post about how you went out of your comfort zone to attend your first Pride event and start that post with the definition of what ally means

I’m just going to dive in.

The poor “ally” action

An old supervisor of mine once post on Facebook a few years back about how she attended her first Pride event, beginning the post with a pasted definition of “ally” (which had no reference to the LGBTQ community anyway). Allies calling themselves an ally is always pretty cringe-worthy; this was no exception. The long post detailed how her event was “intentional” even though there were moments of “discomfort,” and she admitted to misgendering people during the event.

What the Gay wants to say

Please don’t call yourself an ally—it’s weird. You don’t yet know if what you’re doing for the community is helping the community. We’d worked together remotely for two years, and the first time I brought up making a social media post for Pride, you worried that our conservative funders wouldn’t approve. Time passed, but I haven’t forgotten. We don’t forget things like that.  

Admitting that Pride made you feel uncomfortable and that you misgendered people makes me feel very conflicted. It makes me question whether I ever made you uncomfortable when I mentioned my girlfriend. Did you feel grossed out when you realized I was gay? How much discomfort did that put you in? Are you still uncomfortable? How much queer is too queer for you to handle?

The explanation

I’m reasonable enough to understand that sheltered people have to take baby steps into becoming comfortable with the LGBTQ+ community, and I appreciated her conscious effort, but reading about it secondhand on social media raised a lot of questions for me and our past interactions in ways that made me feel uncomfortable. Wanting to jumpstart others’ openness to LGBTQ people is admirable, but those conversations should be directly within distinct communities or directly communicated. Blasting such experiences on social media centers the self (ally), when a strong ally’s purpose is to uplift LGBTQ voices. This comes across like a callout of a pat on the back for attending a party.

That being said, I happen to know that this particular person is a good ally and had every intention of being a great ally to the LGBTQ community when she posted this. When I worked with her, I integrated as much trans-inclusive language into menstrual hygiene health (the focus of our work) as I could, and she was receptive after this event. She centered Pride during June in the organization with social media posts and invited a menstruating queer person to talk about periods for our monthly blog, and generally listens instead of talks. In fact, I might even expect her to read this blog because she is so conscious of doing better and being better.

If she is reading this, Hey, girl! No hard feelings at all. I see you and what you’ve done to affirm LGBTQ people, from inclusivity with your organization to the things you comment on my personal FB post when I’m talking about being queer. And I appreciate it!

The alternative

When you do good things for the LGBTQ community, don’t boast about them. It’s not about you and what you’re doing; it’s about the community and how other allies can support us. Your role is to gather the attention of cisgender heterosexuals and pass the microphone to the queers.

General ally no-nos

I collected a list of annoying things the straights do/say from my Twitter followers, including but not limited to:

  • “I couldn’t tell you were trans!” (Affirms that trans people who don’t “pass” as cis aren’t valid.)
  • “I wouldn’t have known you were gay/lesbian/bi/queer/etc.!” OR “You don’t look like a lesbian/gay person/bisexual/etc.” (Being perceived as straight is not a compliment.)
  • “People who identify as [gender/sexuality].” (Instead say: “people who are [gender/sexuality].”)
  • “What are your preferred pronouns. (They are not preferred. They are our pronouns. Instead, say: “What are your pronouns?”)
  • Allies do not deserve a flag lol that’s so weird get a hobby.
  • Telling an LGBTQ person that you used to be homophobic. That’s not a flex. Like good for you, but gather praise from someone you didn’t hate without reason at one point in your life.
  • Calling any LGBTQ person “brave” for simply existing. We are literally just existing; you’re making it seem weird and abnormal for people like us to be alive.
  • Any over-emphasis on how ACCEPTING and LOVING you are when someone mentions they are queer, and just generally affirming that LOVE IS LOVE there is NOTHING WRONG WITH IT, I don’t care WHAT you are, let’s just RESPECT EVERYONE…yeah we know.

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